Colouring Outside the Lines
Yesterday I finished the last of 4 days teaching foundation handling workshops. A great group of enthusiastic students with a varied range of experience. Some handlers brand new to agility while others were coming back for a refresher after a year or so of trialing with their young dogs. However most of the 14 dogs were adolescents just taking their first hops in the world of sequencing obstacles. I love to be a part of those “firsts.”
There were a few dogs that needed more focus on ground work and building value for their humans. Perhaps a bit premature to try to sequence jumps at this point. I am talking about dogs that would leave work to run off and search for cookies or chase another dog. Funny enough, all of these dogs had amazing Crate Games. They would leave their owners in a dead gallop at the first suggestion of finding their crate. For this group, the homework was to now turn this value around. Clearly they had the talent to build great value for the crate –so I anticipate they will have the same success turning things around and getting value for them and their work.
So the plan is to use the concepts of Stages 1-3 of Crate Games, but rather than building value for a crate, they will be building value for their owners. “You’re Out- You’re In” may become– be released from your owner and see if the dog once again will seek their owner?
When you are putting together the building blocks of your future agility dog you are either building value for something or adding complexity to something you feel the dog already knows. For example the value building of One Jump Work evolves into the complexity Greg Derrett’s Double Box Work and beyond.
For many handlers with young dogs the dilemma of knowing WHEN it is time to move from value building to value testing (or adding complexity) is the big question. If you make this move too early you run the risk of over facing the young dog and running into issues such as; the dog shutting down, sniffing, getting the zoomies etc. Wait too long and you not only waste your valuable training time but you also may find it more difficult to push forward later on. For example; if you work a rear cross on one jump for months without ever trying to sequence the manuever with another jump you run the risk of a dog not looking to drive on to other obstacles after you perform any future rear cross.
With most owners of the young dogs in attendance this past weekend the message I tried to share was to “allow the young dog to colour outside of the lines.” I recognize that the Say Yes program is filled with tons of details. With so many details it is easy to aim for perfection. So even if you have been building value effectively and adding complexity appropriately; with the unattainable quest for perfection of details on your agenda –you run the risk of sucking the drive out of even the most eager young dog.
Hence my advise to allow these young dogs the freedom to “colour outside the lines.” Don’t freak out if the youngster runs around a jump or cuts behind your back while he is learning how to follow your body in handling. Certainly don’t reward it — but neither should it be “punished.” The lack of reinforcement coupled with massive amounts of appropriately applied high value reinforcement when he gets it right is all the feedback your young dogs needs to move forward with confidence and enthusiasm.
Take a deep breath (and some high valued vegan chocolate chip cookies where necessary) to help you overcome the need to see perfection in the narrowing eyes of your promising young upstart that is staring back at you from the start line with his butt hairs slowly lifting out of your previously perfected start line stay in crazed anticipation of your magical release word.
Enjoy the journey my friends:).
Today I am grateful for the opportunity to teach. Twenty one years and counting since I taught my first dog training class. I still consider it a privilege, it has never lost its appeal for me; I suspect it never will.